George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 1 of 13)
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Well stuth Solomon, much reading is weariness unto the flesh. How
many hundred studious days and weeks, and how many hard and tearing
thoughts, has my little, very little knowledge cost me, and how much infirmity
and p'ainfulness to my flesh, increase of painful diseases, and loss of bodily

^ How much pleasure to myself of other kinds, and how much acceptance
with men have 1 lost hy it, which 1 might easily have had in a more conversant
and plausible way of life." BAXTER'S DYING THOUGHTS.









To expect that the public in general will interest
themselves in a polemical discussion on subjects of
abstract science, is, I am aware, unreasonable ; yet
perhaps there may not be wanting those who, on the
bare principle of justice, will consent to peruse the
present series of letters; and who make it the rule of
their lives to frown down the strong when combining
to oppress the weak and the absent.

To such persons I address myself I ask no advo-
cateI court no favour ; I complain of wrong in-
flicted by a body of men, powerful from their
influence, their learning, their. rank; and all that I
ask is a fair and impartial hearing.





" Semper ego auditor tantum? nunquam ne reponamV'

A PAMPHLET has recently fallen under my eye written by Major
Jervis, of the Hon. E. I. Company's Bombay Engineers, with
which is bound up, amongst several other documents, one pur-
porting to be an Address to the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, and
The Honourable the Court of Directors of the E. I. Company,
bearing the signatures of many of my countrymen most distin-
guished for their attainments in science, and at the head of
them that of your Royal Highness as President of the Royal

The pamphlet and documents to which I allude bear upon
subjects in which I am most intimately concerned, and therefore
I have made bold to address your Royal Highness ; but previ-
ously to entering on my subject, it is but consistent with the
deference which I owe to your high rank that I should explain
who I am, and on what grounds I deem myself warranted in thus
intruding myself, uncalled for, on your august presence.

I am a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Hon. E. I. Company's Ben-
gal Artillery, and was appointed by the Marquis of Hastings, in


1817, to be chief assistant to the late Lieut.-Col. Lambton, of
H. M. 33rd Foot, who had for many years been occupied in the
extensive series of Geodetical operations, known by the desig-
nation of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.

I joined Lieut.-Col. Lambton in 1818, and remained with him
as his chief assistant until his death in 1823, when I was ap-
pointed his successor, and since that period have continued
to hold the situation of Superintendent of the Great Trigonome-
trical Survey.

Your Royal Highness will understand, that the meridian of
India, which runs nearly through Cape Comorin, at a place
called Punnse, in latitude 8 9' 32", and longitude 77 39', is
that along which meridional arcs have been measured ; for the
partial measurements made prior to these were rejected by
Lieut.-Col. Lambton himself, and never adverted to by him in
his latter days but as failures. Men quote these rejected mea-
surements now and then, it is true, but it is not correct to do so.

The principal meridian of India is then that of which I speak,
and the series of triangles conducted along it, is designated
accordingly the Great Arc Series. Along this meridian, at the
time of my succeeding to Lieut.-Col. Lambton, arcs had been
measured from Punnse, in latitude 8 9' 32", to Damargida, in
latitude 18 3' 23"; their particulars had been published in
divers works, but chiefly in the Transactions of the Asiatic
Society of Calcutta; several bases had been measured with a
steel chain at intermediate sites, besides one at each of the
limits ; astronomical observations had been taken with a zenith
sector, sufficient to determine the celestial arcs of amplitude,
either of the arc as a whole, or in portions ; and in fact, in the
opinion of the Lieut.-Col., nothing remained to the completion
of the meridional arc of near ten degrees, comprised between
Punnse and Damargida.

At the period of which I speak, January 1823, the Great Arc
Series of India had also been partially continued to the northward
of Damargida ; the principal triangles had been brought up to the

line Pilkher, to Ikjhera, in latitude 20 29' ; a base of verifi-
cation had been measured with a steel chain in the valley of
Berar, in latitude 21 6"; and an attempt had been made by
Lieut. -Col. Lambton to complete a series of celestial observations
at Takalkhera, in the same latitude, with the same zenith sector
already spoken of; but the connexion between this new base and
that at Damargida was not formed, for there was a gap of nearly
fifty miles remaining to the south of Takalkhera, in which not
even the stations were chosen ; and as to the celestial observations
themselves, the wildness and uncertainty which prevailed through-
out those at Takalkhera were such, as to render them totally
unsusceptible of any arrangement or reduction to order, without
resorting to arbitrary alterations, which I could never think
warrantable. Men cannot last for ever : the Lieut-Col's, infir-
mities had evidently subdued all but his spirit, at the time of this
his last effort.

As to the terrestrial work, as far as it went, that is, to the line
Pilkher to Ikjhera, I was necessitated by existing circumstances,
to take it for the time being as it stood, for better, for worse. I
succeeded to no ordinary man, and before proceeding to impugn
or revise anything that had been performed during his superin-
tendence, it behoved me to shew that I was at least able to do as
well as he had done.

I therefore availed myself of the earliest occasion to take up the
line Pilkher to Ikjhera, and fill up the connexion between it and
the new base. At Takalkhera, I made a sufficient number of
celestial observations to determine the arc of amplitude, and
then proceeded to push the triangulation northwards, to the lati-
tude of 24 7', near which, in the valley of Sironj, I measured
another base of verification with the steel chain, and at a station
called Kalianpur, made another complete set of observations for

This work was brought to as satisfactory a conclusion as I could
have anticipated in 1825. Nothing was therefore left undone, to
connect the series between Damargida, in latitude 18 3', and


Kalianpur,in latitude 24 7', and I should probably have continued
the work to the northern extremity of the E. I. Company's
dominions in 1825, but for the state of my health, which forced
me to return to my native climate.

An account of all that I had done was printed by me at the
expense of the E. I. Company in 1830, and one copy of the
book was, I am assured, given to the Royal Society ; but whether
or no, I myself distributed several copies, which the Honourable
Court placed at my disposal, to gentlemen of my acquaintance;
and amongst the distinguished names that appear appended to
the address bound up in Major Jervis's pamphlet, I recognize
more than one to whom the humble tribute of my labours was
offered .

If then in that Address I find myself treated as a thing gone
by, and unworthy of further note, your Royal Highness will
assuredly admit that I have just cause to complain ; and though
there are certainly no direct symptoms of positive disrespect,
where my former labours are alluded to, yet to my present
labours, in which I have been unremittingly engaged since my
return to India in 1830, and am still hourly occupied, not only
is no allusion made, but the gentleman selected by my em-
ployers, to succeed only eventually , and in case of my being
compelled by ill health to leave India, is spoken of as already
installed, and I as out of office.

To your Royal Highness I submit that I should have a pecu-
liar right of appeal in such a case as this, if I succeed in showing
that it is of this nature : I am a brother Mason, one of your
Royal Brother's lodge, the Prince of Wales's Chapter, of which
your Royal Highness may easily assure yourself, by reference to
brother Harper, if he be still alive, or to the existing Secretary.
Then, please your Royal Highness, if Masonry do not merit all
the imputations and sneers which its enemies would heap upon
it, (a day which I hope I may never live to see,) it is thebounden
duty of your Royal Highness to protect an absent brother
Mason from wrong.


But I keep in mind, that I have first to show that wrong has
been inflicted, towards the establishment of which fact it is
necessary that I should refer to the Address itself, which, to avoid
confusion, had better be reserved for my next letter.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.



" Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,

Is the immediate jewel of their soul j

Who steals my purse steals trash ; 'tis something, nothing,

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has heen slave to thousands ;

But he who niches from me my good name,

Robs me of that which not enriches him,

And makes me poor indeed." MOOR or VENICE.


IN my last letter I proposed to refer to the Address of the Royal
Society, which bears the signatures of no fewer than thirty-eight
of the Fellows of that learned body, preceded by that of your
Royal Highness as their President; and to proceed in order, I
will beg leave to extract the first paragraph, which runs thus :

" We the undersigned, the President, Vice President, and
Fellows of the Royal Society, the Geological Society, and the
Royal Geographical Society, respectively, view with great inte-
rest the important objects which Major Jervis, F. R. S. (who, we
are given to understand, has recently been appointed by the
Honourable Court to the charge and superintendence of the
Great Survey of India) has submitted to us for the extension of
science ; the improvement of the geography of India, and of the
countries stretching between its frontiers and the Caspian Sea ;

which last object has been particularly advocated by the Council
of the Royal Geographical Society."

In reference to which, I beg to remark that the circumstance
on which the learned Fellows base this paragraph of the Address,
is so obviously incompatible with my continuance in my present
situation, that, considering I am one of their body, who have had
no bed of down to recline on in following up my pursuits, (be
their value what it may), it would but have been commonly civil
and decorous, to dispose of me decently before thus heedlessly
assuming that I am set aside to make room for a successor.

But as the difference of data seems to be the chief cause of
difference of opinion amongst men, and since there is no hope of
an end to any controversy in which the antagonists do not
thoroughly understand each what the other means, therefore,
perhaps, your Royal Highness will graciously permit me to nar-
rate the true state of the case as it stands.

In the year 1829, the Honourable Court of Directors did me
the honour to nominate me to the vacant office of Surveyor-
General of India, connecting therewith that of Superintendent of
their Great Trigonometrical Survey, which latter, the flattering
compliment had been paid to me, of keeping open during my
absence of five years on sick leave.

I left England in June 1330, and arrived in India in Octobei
of the same year, to take charge of my new and former situa-
tions, in the duties of which I have been, and am to this hour,
unremittingly employed.

Certain matters relating to a longitudinal series which had
been carried on by my assistants during my absence; to old
arrears of business of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, con-
nected with work performed by my predecessor and myself,
which had been left unfinished in consequence of my illness ;
to the comparisons of the new compensation bars, and the iron
standard, with the old Great Trigonometrical Survey and other
chains ; and many other preparatory measures, which it is not
necessary to explain in this place, combined to detain me in

Calcutta, and prevent my resuming operations on the great arc
series till the beginning of 1833, when I proceeded to the 'upper
provinces of India for that purpose.

Your Royal Highness will understand, that at the time I
speak of, there was not a single person at my disposal who had
had the slightest experience in Geodetical operations, except
three of my sub-assistants, who were not scientific men ; these
three were all, more or less, able to observe (one of them, Mr.
Olliver, with accuracy) in the olden method ; but the instruments
which I brought out with me to India in 1830, were so vastly
superior to any that had ever been before used, that what would
have sufficed in former days in point of accuracy, could not be
taken as a criterion for what would henceforward be expected by
my employers.

But not to particularize the novelty of the new instruments for
observing, and of the signals used, or the corresponding attention
now about to be required to minutige, which were formerly treated
as rejectaneous, there was, in the portion of the Great Arc lying
to the north of the parallel of 24 7', a natural source of
embarrassment, presented by the face of the country itself,
which rendered all experience formerly acquired by these persons
of no avail whatever.

Near Bhartpur, in latitude 27 14', is the Hill Station of
Madoni, the last natural height which occurs on the eastern
flank of the series, for upwards of 215 miles of direct distance,
so that in proceeding further northward, the stations were to be
fixed in lands presenting absolutely a dead flat.

At Dehli, in latitude 28 41', is the last natural height on the
western flank of the series, further north than which, all the
stations on both flanks were necessarily to be fixed in the same
undeviating plain for upwards of 100 miles.

I fear I shall hardly make myself intelligible to your Royal
Highness, for it requires that a person should have been practi-
cally engaged in Geodetical pursuits, in order fully to appreciate
the wide difference that exists between operations carried on in


hilly countries, and those conducted under the circumstances I
speak of.

It would lead me a great deal into verbiage, to endeavour to
explain this difference satisfactorily; and as I shall probably
eventually find it necessary to do so at full length when my next
work comes forth, perhaps your Royal Highness will, in the mean
time, permit me to assume as a fact, that the difference is so
very wide, that people trained only in countries where natural
heights abound, are utterly confounded when deprived of those

True it is, no doubt, that if all sorts of angles and sides are
made use of unscrupulously, a series of triangles can be carried
on in one sort of country nearly as well as another ; and I am
aware that M. Mechain, in speaking of the wonderful powers of
the repeating circle, declares it to be no longer necessary to have
" triangles bien conditionnes ;" but that is not the style in which I
would consent to carry on work deputed to my management, and
as I am not a convert to the opinion of this learned and able
Geodist, but on the contrary deem symmetry quite indispensable
to accuracy, therefore I have established it as a rule, never to be
departed from, that no angle less than 30, or greater than 90,
is to be admitted into a simple series ; and as when the person
at the head of a department issues a rule or ordinance for the
general guidance of his subordinates, he ought to be the first to
set an example of compliance with it, and the very last to violate
it, therefore this privilege of setting symmetry aside was of no
more avail to me, than was the experience of those who were
sufficiently calculated to make themselves useful in hilly tracts.

Hence, admitting these premises, it will be plain to your Royal
Highness, that to the north of Bhartpur, the conduct of all the
minutiae of the whole work rested entirely with me : I was to
devise new methods, make myself proficient in them, and then
instruct my subordinates in them ; and it will serve to illustrate
the nature of the embarrassment, that the old assistants were the
last to be of use, and the most difficult to be instructed, just in


the same manner as bad habits acquired in practising the violin,
only retard the progress of the learner. Nay, moreover, to this
hour, of the three persons I allude to, only the youngest of the
three, Mr. J. Peyton, has ever become a proficient in the use
of the new instruments, and new methods; whilst Lieuts. Waugh,
Renny, and Jones, of the Bengal Engineers, and many others of
my subordinates, who have all been pupils of my own since
1832, have attained a degree of accuracy, and perfection of
skill, which it would be difficult to equal, and, as I conceive,
impossible to surpass : so true is the old adage, that " you can-
not teach old birds to sing."

By the middle of 1833, it had become quite clear that there
was no hope of making any progress unless I took the field
myself, which I accordingly did on the 1st of November of that
year, and by the end of the following April I succeeded in
selecting all the stations, furnished the architects with drawings
and other requisite instructions illustrative of the size and
height of the towers to be erected, (seventeen in number), mea-
sured all the angles to within a few seconds of the truth, and
traced out the site of a base line in the valley called the Dehra

The distance between Sironj and Dehra Dun is about 450
miles, and the labour was tremendous. In the close of 1834,
I commenced the measurement of the base of verification, which,
until my subordinates were instructed, was also another serious
labour, falling chiefly on me ; and the combined action of so
much fatigue and mental anxiety brought on an illness which
well nigh closed my worldly affairs in the most compendious of

In short, by the end of 1835, medical gentlemen pronounced
my recovery past all hope, unless I quitted India immediately ;
and certified the same in writing, which I laid before the Go-
vernment, and, as a precautionary measure, obtained their full
sanction to use my own judgment as to staying, or going to
Calcutta with a view to embarking.


Though, however, eventually I got the better of the illness, yet
in the meantime the knowledge of the precarious state of my
health had been communicated to the Court of Directors, who,
desirous above all things that a work in which they take so
much pride should not be impeded, searched for a successor
for me, and selected Major Jervis, but decided at the same time,
that " so long as I remained in office, they must look to me
alone as their responsible adviser, in all matters connected with
the survey of India ;" and further paid me the handsome com-
pliment of saying, that " although under the apprehension that
my health would compel my early return to England, they, in
September 1837, made a provisional appointment of a successor,
yet as they had not since received tidings confirmatory of that
apprehension, they were in hopes that the Government would
have the prolonged advantage of my services."

This, please your Royal Highness, is the accurate state of the
case, which can be substantiated, if necessary, by reference to
my office documents and other writings in my possession, and
I need not point out how utterly at variance it is with that
assumed as the basis of the Address of the Royal Society.

I need not surely demonstrate to that learned Society, that if
two bodies, A and J5, exist in two points of space, which are
not susceptible of simultaneous occupation, then in order that
B may take possession of the point which A holds, two events, a
and b, must occur in succession, the first in order of which, a,
must precede, and consists in the elimination of A, whilst b,
which is to follow, and can never happen until a has happened,
consists in the transfer of B to the locality of A.

Now I leave learned gentlemen to calculate the probability of
the occurrence of b ; but, when they assume that the probability
is unity, I submit to your Royal Highness, that they take a step
inconsistent with the rigorous method hitherto deemed neces-
sary by those who professedly cultivate the exact sciences.

It may perhaps be urged, that the learned Fellows, whose
names are appended to the Address, were informed that Major


Jervis had been appointed to the charge which I have held for
so many years, and that I was actually removed to make room
for him by expulsion, by death, by incapacity, by sick-
ness, by disinclination, or some other cause ; but, please your
Royal Highness, this is not the mode in which reasonable beings
usually proceed, nor would it be deemed justifiable, in excuse
for an indiscretion in common life, to advance vague reports and
surmises, or tales narrated by interested intelligencers, as the
foundation of our actions. Now, if indiscretions of this nature are
so avowedly inexcusable in common men, by how much more
are they unbecoming in the learned, the wise, the gifted of a
nation, to whom the more humble and less fortunate of their
countrymen ought naturally to look up as a guide and example.
Suffer me, please your Royal Highness, without fear of being
deemed presumptuous, to entreat each of those learned ad-
dressors individually to make my case his own ; and if, as it
cannot be doubted, he have a sufficient portion of the spirit of
Christianity and justice, to place himself in imagination in my
position, let me then ask him, how he would like the unceremo-
nious mode of disposal which he has participated in towards me
to be applied to himself?

There are, perhaps, but few of the thirty-eight learned Fellows
whose circumstances exhibit an exact parity with my own ; but
still there are sufficient approaches to that state, to enable many
of those learned persons to estimate the feeling of indignation
which each would experience individually, at so free and easy a
process of concluding on his dispossession ; for the case divested
of all its incumbrances, stands precisely thus :

The Court of Directors of the E. I. Company are the body
formally recognized by the law of the land as entitled to govern
the vast dominions of India which own the sway of Great
Britain. It matters not to the question, whether the law be
wrong, or right; for its enactments are just as forcible as those
by which her present Majesty sits on the throne of her an-


The Court of Directors have the power, therefore, by law, to
appoint whom they choose to be Surveyor-General of India.
I am the person whom they have been pleased to nominate ;
and I am just as legally the guardian of the department en-
trusted to my charge, as Professor Airy is of the Royal Obser-
vatory, as Col. Colby is of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of
Great Britain and Ireland, as Col. Pasley is of the Institution at
Chatham, as Capt. Beaufort is of that of Hydrographer to the
Admiralty. My capacity or incapacity is nothing whatever to
the question ; and though I shall have no objection to make that
a subject of discussion with those who desire it, in proper time
and place, yet for the case under present consideration, it
matters not if I be the most incapable person alive, so long as
my masters shall do me the honour to confide in me.

Here, then, I submit to your Royal Highness, are cases very
nearly approaching to the parity desired by way of illustration
and analogy ; for, omitting Colonels Pasley and Colby, (whose
names I beg with all deference to apologize to these gentlemen
for having cited, seeing that they are not in the thirty-eight),
let me ask the learned Professor and the gallant Captain how
either of them would like being thus unceremoniously assumed
to be thrust off his seat, because he had had the calamity to
incur a serious illness in the execution of his office? Is that
the way in which we usually make our return to men who un-

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 1 of 13)